Pepper has written this blog about his voyage on the Queen Mary 2 to Hamburg and then Paris and he has allowed me to add a few words to it to give a human's perspective. Thank you, Pepper!
A few summers ago I had the opportunity to visit some friends in Europe, so I made the decision to move my writing business (me and a laptop) to Paris for the summer – and take my dog.
Pepper, a Miniature Schnauzer, was 11 years old at the time. I had adopted him from a small, cold shelter in Indiana 10 years prior. He was a mess when I found him – full of mange and terrified of hands and feet. He’d sit shivering in a corner for hours. He has since realized that no one was ever going to hurt him again, and decided that he was the Alpha Dog of the World. I am fine with that.
So, how do the Alpha Dog of the World and his favorite girl spend their 10-year anniversary? With a romantic voyage to Europe on the ocean liner the Queen Mary 2, of course! It was the voyage of a lifetime, and since I don’t love to fly (and I was sure Pepper wouldn’t appreciate a 10 hour plane ride), it seemed like the perfect option.
I immediately called Cunard and started setting up the trip. When I spoke with the person in charge of helping people prepare their pets to make the voyage, I realized that I was a day late and a dollar short – if I wanted to go that summer I should have started preparing Pepper’s veterinary papers eight months before! So, our trip was postponed till the next summer.
The first thing that Cunard did was email me a packet of paperwork with the international rules of pet travel and instructions on how to get a Pet Passport. Most countries aren’t strict about dogs coming in, but the UK is very strict, and since the Queen Mary 2 is run out of the UK, their rules are the same. They dock in South Hampton, so every dog and cat on board must have all of the paperwork for the Pet Passport Travel Scheme in order to the UK’s satisfaction.
Here’s what you have to do, in a nutshell – start EIGHT months before your trip:
- Get your pet microchipped with a subcutaneous (below the skin) chip that your veterinarian will implant into your pet. It’s about as painful as a vaccination, which is to say, it’s not that bad. This chip is permanent identification for your pet. Get the veterinarian’s signature on your paperwork stating that this has been done and listing the microship number. The signature must be in BLUE ink over a BLACK stamp (your vet will have the stamp). I can’t stress this last part enough.
- After the microchip (note: AFTER) your pet must be vaccinated for rabies. Do it in the same visit as the microchip implantation. Get the veterinarian’s signature on your paperwork stating that this has been done. The signature must be in BLUE ink over a BLACK stamp.
- After a few weeks (your vet will advise you on the timing), you will take your pet back to the veterinarian and he/she will draw blood and send it to a lab where it will be tested for a rabies titer. Once that is in, get the veterinarian’s signature on your paperwork stating that this has been done. The signature must be in BLUE ink over a BLACK stamp.
- Your dog must travel within – I think – 4 or 6 months from the time this signature is given. Please check with Cunard and the Pet Passport Scheme to make sure of the timing. As I recall, we had to wait 6 months to travel because this was the first time we were doing the Pet Passport – the timing is confusing, I must admit.
- Between 24 and 48 hours before your voyage, your pet must have flea and tick treatment. This is simply something like Frontline put onto the pet’s skin (by the vet). Get the veterinarian’s signature on your paperwork stating that this has been done. The signature must be in BLUE ink over a BLACK stamp.
- Between 24 and 48 hours before your voyage, your pet must have tapeworm treatment. This is just a pill that your vet will give to your pet. Get the veterinarian’s signature on your paperwork stating that this has been done. The signature must be in BLUE ink over a BLACK stamp.
7. The veterinarian must also fill out a health certificate for your pet.
If you are coming from the USA into Europe, you will need your veterinarian to fill out this form as well.
NOTE: Please do not use this information as the only information on how to get your pet ready for the voyage. I am writing this in hindsight and may have forgotten something important.
If you get confused, do not hesitate to call Cunard. They have someone on staff that deals specifically with the pets and they know that the documentation is confusing and they do everything they can to help.
So, we finally got all of that done and it was embarkation day! When Pepper and I first walked into the terminal we were told to sit in a separate are with the other people who had pets – this was nice because it gave us a chance to meet each other’s animals.
The purser for the Queen Mary 2, Chantal Mooiman, met us at the dock in Brooklyn. She was in charge of making sure that all of the pets had their paperwork. What a sweet, lovely, patient woman! She combed over Pepper’s intricate paperwork, the stack that I had been meticulously working on for nine months, and noticed that I was missing one veterinary signature. It was the last signature, the one saying that Pepper received flea and tick treatment. The stamp was there, but not the signature in blue ink.
I begged Chantal to let us on regardless. It was just one little signature, right? She couldn’t do it. Rules were rules, and these rules were important. I literally broke down and cried. I wasn’t going to be able to take the voyage that I had been planning all of these months. The ship would leave without us. But I had my little meltdown too soon. It seem that this happens occasionally, so they have a driver and a nearby veterinarian ready for an “emergency.”
The very helpful and nice Cunard driver took Pepper and I to a vet in Brooklyn where he got an extra flea and tick treatment (not a big deal) and we got our signature. We were ready to go!
Someone will take you directly to the kennel on Deck 12 (there are 13 decks) where you will meet the Kennel Master. This is the person who will be responsible for taking care of your dog or cat. The Kennel Master we had was named Dayle, and he was the sweetest guy. He clearly loved the dogs and cats on board and I immediately trusted him. And I don’t trust a lot of people with Pepper.
There are “visiting hours” for the kennel and you can spend quite a lot of time there sitting on deck or inside the playroom. However, if your dog needs medicine, special food, or you just miss him TOO much, you can see him 24 hours a day. Just be sure to tip your Kennel Master well if you’re getting him out of bed at night! The Queen Mary 2 will provide your pet with both dry and wet food, or you can bring your own. If it needs to be frozen or refrigerated, they will do that too. They also provide freshly cooked chicken and homemade biscuits.
You can not take your pet outside of the kennel. Other than that, Cunard is VERY accommodating. On one of my voyages (we went back and forth) a woman with three cats was very distraught that the barking dogs would upset her cats, so they made a space for the cats in a storage room. I’m sure that Cunard doesn’t want to encourage such things, but they will do just about anything to please their guests.
One night on each of my voyages Cunard put a “Dog Lovers Meeting” into the daily ship calendar. I don’t know if they did this just for me (they said they did), but it was nice either way. All of the dog lovers on board got together to talk about their dogs on board and their dogs at home. Cunard brought us Champagne and petit fours. Very nice.
One day, Cunard schedules a photo session for people with their pets. A photographer comes and takes photos of you and your pet with the complimentary QM2 coat on – very cute. You get the photo for free. You also get a key chain, Frisbee, food scoop, and some other promotional items.
A LOT of people have asked me where the pets go to the bathroom. They go on deck! They have a fairly generous area of the deck that they can use as a run and as a potty. The second they do their “business,” the Kennel Master is there to clean it up. Everything is VERY clean and sanitary.
People have also asked me if keeping the pets in the kennel is like boarding them. Yes, they are in cages when no one is around. But other than late at night, someone is always around! I never found Pepper in a cage when I came to see him. The Kennel Master has the dogs running free all the time when he’s there. The cats do not have free run – obviously, that would be dangerous because they could escape – but owners are allowed to play with them outside the cage in the playroom for as many hours a day as they like. So, no, it’s not like boarding. And your pet is just a few steps away at all times. At first, they had Pepper in a small kennel because he is small, but since the kennel wasn't full I was able to have him moved to a double sized cage. The Kennel Master will do anything in his authority to make pet owners happy.
The kennel is a great place to spend part of the day if your pet is on board. The view is spectacular. We saw whales one day! Only people who have pets are allowed inside the deck run or the kennel, so your pet is safe, and the kennel is locked tight when the kennel master isn’t there. The kennel is quite a curiosity on board, so be prepared to answer some questions from people stopping by to say hello to the dogs.
Do dogs get sea sick? None of them did when I was on board. The Queen Mary 2 has large stabilizers, which help keep the ship from rocking a lot.
Do all the dogs get along? They did on the two voyages I went on. They had a ball, actually! I'm sure there are issues from time to time, but the Kennel Master is prepared to deal with that.
All of the ship's staff, from the sweet lady who tended to my room to the CAPTAIN knew that I had Pepper on board and asked about him constantly. Yes, the captain! This is a very tightly run ship that is geared toward making the passengers feel welcome and at home. The pets, I was told, are considered passengers, just like the humans. How cool is that?
In terms of safety, the QM2 has a kennel safely protocol that's as good as the one used for human passengers! Each pet has a life jacket. Each pet also has a staff member assigned to him/her in case of an emergency. The staff member will come get your pet and escort him/her to a safe location. I don't think they've ever had to use it, but it's nice to know that they thought about our pets ahead of time.
You will be happy (or scared) to know that bringing a pet back into the US from the Queen Mary 2 is a breeze. I could have had a rabid raccoon in Pepper’s bag instead of Pepper and no one would have known. No one looked at him or at his paperwork. I was honestly grateful that it was so easy. The Cunard staff helped us off the ship, and I have to say that I was very sad to go!
All in all, we had a spectacular time and I would take this voyage again in a heartbeat. Pepper thinks so too.
Hugs and Woofs,